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Posts from the "Ed Reiskin" Category

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Speak Out: SFMTA Board Could Scrap Sunday Parking Meters Tomorrow

Photo: Aaron Bialick

Correction: The SFMTA Board meeting begins at 2 p.m., not 1 p.m. as previously stated. Depending on the number of speakers, the meeting could last hours. You can view the meeting live on SFGovTV 2.

Tomorrow is your chance to speak out about the SFMTA’s proposal to repeal Sunday parking metering, as the agency’s Board of Directors will vote on a new budget that eliminates the $9.6 million in annual revenue that the meters bring in. It’s up to the board to stand up to Mayor Ed Lee, who has sought to reverse one of the smartest transportation policies to begin under his administration with unfounded claims of a popular revolt against Sunday meters.

The SFMTA Board of Directors. Photo: The Phantom Cab Driver Phites Back

Although SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin proposed compromises, such as re-directing parking enforcement away from Sunday meters, or only enforcing four-hour time limits, the proposal on the board’s agenda calls for a complete reversal of the policy. Lee’s office reiterated to CBS just last week that the mayor is unwilling to accept anything less than free parking on Sundays. Reiskin and the SFMTA Board, all mayoral appointees, appear poised to undo the hard-fought policy success, even though it has cut cruising times for parking in half and has increased parking turnover near businesses by at least 20 percent.

“It’s highly disturbing that SFMTA staff is presenting a proposal that is straight from the mayor’s office,” said transit advocate Mario Tanev, who called the proposal a “complete betrayal of transit-first, SF businesses, shoppers and common sense.”

“This will set a really bad precedent. SFMTA and progressive transportation policy will be severely damaged by this reversal. It will feed into the narrative that parking meters are somehow a failure that nobody wants.”

Even though the push against paying for Sunday parking appears to be coming from church leaders, Mayor Lee claims it will win voter support for three transportation funding measures proposed for November’s ballot. Yet it’s not clear that will win over many votes, given strong support behind Sunday meters: The Chamber of Commerce, the SF Bicycle Coalition, and even former Mayor Willie Brown all declared their support in two Chronicle op-eds published last week.

Brown’s support is especially surprising, considering that his views on transportation policy are usually more car-centric. Then again, Sunday meters benefit drivers by making it easier to find a spot, and even Brown recognizes the pro-business side of it.

“Free parking on Sundays is a throwback to 40 years ago when stores were closed that day,” Brown wrote in his column Saturday. “Now it is ‘open for business’ seven days a week, and stores can’t afford to have cars camped outside for hours when there are potential customers circling.”

The SFMTA Board meeting starts tomorrow at 2 p.m. at City Hall, room 400. If you can’t make it to speak during public comment, you can email the board at MTABoard@sfmta.com.

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Caltrans Endorses the NACTO Urban Street Design Guide

It wasn’t a total surprise, but exciting nevertheless for bicycle advocates gathered at the NACTO “Cities for Cycling” Road Show in Oakland last nightCaltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty announced that the agency will endorse the use of the National Association of City Transportation Officials Urban Street Design Guide, giving California cities the state DOT’s blessing to install modern infrastructure like protected bike lanes.

Received with enthusiastic applause from the crowd of bike advocates, city officials, and planners, Dougherty said:

We’re trying to change the mentality of the department of transportation, of our engineers, and of those that are doing work in and around the state highway system. Many cities around California are trying to be forward thinking in terms of alternative modes, such as bike and pedestrian, as well as the safety of the entire system, and the very least we can do as the department of transportation for the state is to follow that lead, to get out of the way, and to figure out how to carry that into regional travel.

Imagine how this commute on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland would feel with a protected bike lane. Photo by Jonah Chiarenza, www.community-design.com

NACTO’s Urban Street Design Guide, launched last September, is the product of collaboration between the transportation departments of its member cities around the U.S. The guide provides the latest American standards for designing safer city streets for all users, incorporating experience from cities that have developed innovative solutions into a blueprint for others to use. It supplements, but doesn’t replace, other manuals such as the Caltrans Highway Design Manual and California’s Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

As the state’s transportation department, Caltrans has control over the design of state-owned highways, but the design of local streets and roads is left to local jurisdictions — with one exception. Bicycle infrastructure throughout the state has been dictated by the car-focused agency because local engineers rely on Caltrans-approved designs to protect local municipalities from lawsuits. As a result, city planners were often hesitant, or flat out refused, to build an innovative treatments like a protected bike lanes that don’t appear in Caltrans Highway Design Manual.

“It’s a permission slip for cities, for engineers and planners, to do the good, well-vetted, proven work that we know we can do to make our street safer,” said Ed Reiskin, president of NACTO and director of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. “It’s only a first step — ultimately, we’d like to see the changes in the Highway Design Manual to see it actually integrated into Caltrans documents. But this is a huge step forward, and great leadership from Malcolm Secretary [Brian] Kelly and Governor [Jerry] Brown,” who commissioned a report that recommended Caltrans adopt the NACTO guide.

The guide includes design standards for infrastructure including bike boxes, physically protected bike lanes, contra-flow bus lanes, and even parklets. Although these improvements have been implemented in cities in California and the world, they have been considered “experimental” until now. The NACTO guide has only been endorsed by two other states, Washington and Massachusetts.

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Reiskin: Let’s Keep Sunday Parking Meters, But Not Enforce Them

SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin said today that he thinks the agency should keep Sunday parking meters but back off on actually enforcing them.

At an SFMTA Board of Directors meeting, Reiskin said he recommends “that we significantly re-deploy our resources away from Sunday meter enforcement. We have a lot more higher-pressing needs, particularly during the week during the evening rush, for example, in terms of traffic enforcement.”

“I think that leaves us the most flexibility while directly answering the mayor’s call of addressing the concern about Sunday parking, and particularly the high rate of citations that would be issued,” said Reiskin, who said the other options on the table would be to only enforce four-hour time limits or to end Sunday metering altogether. “Given the strength of the mayor’s resolve, and the concerns we’ve heard from the community, that pursuing one of these options would be a good-faith gesture while preserving the transportation benefit that we were seeking by instating the meters.”

Sunday metering has cut in half the time it takes to find a commercial parking spot on Sundays and boosted turnover for merchants by at least 20 percent. Would it still work if motorists know that no one is minding the store? Meters-with-no-enforcement might salvage some benefits, but it would still be a frustrating setback, all based on the mayor’s unfounded claims of “non-stop” complaints about Sunday metering, which don’t seem to be coming from anyone but church leaders.

Sunday parking meter citations have been slowly declining as drivers get used to the policy. The citation rate is still higher than normal — but not by that much. According to a recent SFMTA report [PDF], the rate of citations as a proportion of meter revenue on Sundays was at 35 percent in December, down from the peak of 48 percent in February. For all seven days of the week, the rate was 24 percent in December — though it varies, running as high as 34 percent last March.

Reiskin acknowledged the benefits that Sunday metering has brought, but as a mayoral appointee he isn’t expected to stray far from Lee’s irrational, pandering push for free parking. “Our analysis of the program in the first year showed that it achieved the goal,” he said. “It did increase parking availability, so we’re happy with that, but share the mayor’s concern that a very high number of people are getting parking citations, whether it’s because it’s a new program, or the signage wasn’t good enough, or for whatever reason, people were so used to there not being enforcement on Sundays.”

SFMTA Board Chair Tom Nolan, who has said he supports the mayor’s push to repeal Sunday parking metering, didn’t comment on the issue at the meeting. Cheryl Brinkman, the board’s vice chair, noted that the SFMTA is working on upgrading parking meters to accept credit cards, and suggested that the SFMTA simply “add better signage, re-deploy enforcement to days and areas that it’s really needed, then take another look at that.”

“If we can’t get that citation rate down to something that looks like the other days of the week, then maybe we need to re-visit that,” she said.

Sunday meters brought in $6 million last year for Muni, walking, and biking improvements. If the city does eliminate Sunday meters, it would have to be approved by the SFMTA Board as part of its budget, but laying off on enforcement could be done without their vote.

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Market Street: Transit Paint Upgrades Coming, but Car Bans Still Missing

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New intersection markings could help reduce the number of drivers “blocking the box” on Market this spring, but the SFMTA has continued to postpone proposals to get cars off Market altogether. Photo: Bryan Goebel

Despite calls for more measures to get cars off of Market Street, and the benefits brought by the forced turns already put in place, the SFMTA still has yet to propose any new restrictions on private autos.

Market will have its transit-only lanes will be painted red, and cross-hatched markings will be added to discourage drivers from blocking intersections. Photos via SFMTA

Market will have its transit-only lanes will be painted red, and cross-hatched markings will be added to discourage drivers from blocking intersections. Photos via SFMTA

The agency does, however, plan to make some paint upgrades to help keep Muni moving this spring or summer. Existing transit-only lanes will be painted red, and a cross-hatched paint striping telling drivers not to “block the box” will be added at intersections where cars chronically back up and block cross traffic. SFMTA staff told its Board of Directors this week that the agency and the SFPD would also develop a plan to step up nearly non-existent enforcement of transit lanes and box-blocking on Market.

Yet the agency has repeatedly delayed its promises to put forward proposals for new forced turns or potential bans for private autos on Market, to the frustration of car-free Market champions like Malcolm Heinicke, an SFMTA Board member, and Supervisor David Chiu, who introduced his second resolution urging the SFMTA to move the efforts along. The resolution was approved unanimously by the Board of Supervisors this week.

“I want the people who ride those buses on Market Street to have something close to the experience I have underground of a real right-of-way and real capacity,” Heinicke told SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin at a meeting on the agency’s Strategic Plan and budget Tuesday. “I’m not suggesting any malice or obfuscation here, but my question is, what’s the delay?”

Heinicke had requested that SFMTA staff present a proposal for car restrictions at the previous planning meeting one year ago, and Reiskin said it would come by this winter, but then postponed it to Tuesday’s meeting. Now, Reiskin says the proposals will be ready to be considered as part of the SFMTA’s two-year budget, which is scheduled to be finalized by March.

Reiskin chalked up the delays to the complications caused by ongoing projects like the construction of the Central Subway. “While we have identified some preliminary proposals along with costs and impacts, there’s more work that needs to be done to figure out the interaction with all the various projects that are currently happening on Market Street.”

“I share the frustration, and take responsibility for the fact, that we don’t have something by now,” he said.

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SFMTA Confident in Bike/Ped Funds, Says Changing Streets “the Hard Part”

SFMTA officials are growing more confident in obtaining the funding needed to implement the street safety infrastructure called for in the agency’s Bicycle Strategy and Pedestrian Strategy. But no matter how much funding the agency has, the SFMTA needs to address the lack of follow-through and political will to implement street redesigns, which often leaves projects delayed and watered down to preserve traffic lanes and car parking spaces.

Ed Reiskin. Photo: Michael Short, SF Chronicle

“It’s trying to get public acceptance of making that re-allocation,” agency chief Ed Reiskin told the SFMTA Board of Directors at a meeting yesterday on the agency’s Strategic Plan. ”It’s a pretty significant change we would need to be making in the public rights-of-way for transit and cycling and, to a lesser extent, to improve pedestrian safety — changes in the right-of-way that have been largely unchanged for the past 50, 60, 70 years. That, I think, is our biggest challenge.”

Cheryl Brinkman, vice chair of the SFMTA Board, said the agency and its board need to stand up to vocal groups who fight efforts to implement the city’s transit-first policy. “We need to be willing to step up and make those hard decisions, and understand that what we see as the needs for transportation in the city, may not jive with what we’re hearing loudly expressed in certain areas,” she said. ”We do need to step up say, ‘No, we need to re-allocate space, it has been mis-allocated for so long.’”

While no one at the hearing said Ed Lee’s name (many participants were appointed by him), it was hard to avoid thinking of the mayor’s failure to stand up for contentious street safety projects.

Reiskin told Streetsblog the SFMTA is “developing a new agency-wide approach to public outreach” as well as working with the City Controller’s Office to produce economic studies on the effects of street redesigns “to try to validate or disprove some of the concerns that are raised or the benefits that are estimated from these improvements.” The agency is also gathering research from other cities through the National Association of City Transportation Officials, the coalition of city DOTs currently led by Reiskin.

“We need to do a better job of articulating the transportation, safety, health, and economic benefits, not just based on theory, but based on empirical data from the city and elsewhere,” said Reiskin. “Some people are always gonna need to drive in San Francisco. The more people who are walking, on a bike, or on transit make space for those who really need to use a car for any given trip.”

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Why Isn’t SF Painting the Streets Red Like New York Is?

In New York City, it's apparently easy to stumble across new expansions of public space using low-cost, temporary measures. Why not in SF? Photos: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Just after our look at the faltering pace of plaza expansions under San Francisco’s Pavement to Parks program last week, we get another glimpse of New York City’s ongoing efforts to reclaim street space for people and improve safety using low-cost, temporary measures like posts and gravel epoxy.

Apparently, these kind of space re-allocations happen so frequently, our Streetfilms manager Clarence just stumbles across them while making his way around Manhattan.

After hearing a speech from NYC Department of Transportation Commissioner Jannette Sadik-Khan at the SF Bicycle Coalition’s Golden Wheel Awards last week, I asked SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin why the city isn’t reclaiming space for pedestrians at the pace New York is. He pointed to the agency’s efforts to reclaim road space for protected bike lanes, and said he’s “not sure that there are that many great candidates” for other public space expansions.

It only takes a quick peek at Streetsblog New York, however, to cast some serious doubt on that claim.

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Small Business Commissioner: San Francisco Needs More Parking Garages

As has become painfully apparent on Polk Street, there is a deeply-held belief among certain merchants that car parking is indispensable to their business — even if studies indicate that very few of their customers drive, and that removing parking spaces to implement safety improvements could actually draw more potential customers.

SF Small Business commissioner and former president Luke O'Brien. Image: SFGovTV

So it’s no surprise that when SFMTA officials came to the SF Small Business Commission to discuss its goals to make streets safer and manage parking demand, preserving parking spaces was pretty much the only priority voiced by commissioners.

But Luke O’Brien, the commission’s former president, topped everyone else — he wants to build more parking garages in San Francisco.

O’Brien told SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin that city policies like “transit-first,” which limit the number of new parking spaces in favor of encouraging walking, biking, and transit, “give rise to this feeling that a way of life is being imposed” upon those who would like to drive.

O’Brien didn’t suggest which productive real estate in built-out San Francisco might be sacrificed to construct new parking garages, which come at an average cost of $19,253 per parking space [PDF].

As Reiskin explained, rather than inducing more traffic by building more parking, the SFMTA is instead striving to manage demand for the existing parking supply using pricing strategies under SFPark. As part of that program, the SFMTA is lowering prices on city-owned garages, which have gone severely under-used, to help make them more attractive to drivers than street parking.

“I think our main focus is on being smarter about how we manage parking, rather than increasing the supply,” said Reiskin. “The streets are not getting wider, so for us to build more parking, that would enable more people to drive, which would ultimately have the impact of clogging the streets.”

As the Bay Guardian reported last year, two other commissioners have said O’Brien, a developer appointed to the commission by former Mayor Gavin Newsom, “has been especially aggressive in pushing his ideological agenda.”

O’Brien seemed perfectly fine with the fact that more parking would put more cars on the streets. “I’ve gotta agree with you, if you build more capacity, people generally use it,” he said.

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Fearmongering Overwhelms Facts at Meeting About Livable Polk Street

A mob mentality ruled at a neighborhood meeting last night on safety improvements for Polk Street, where attendees booed any suggestion that removing car parking to make room for pedestrian and bicycle amenities might be worthwhile.

A few hundred attendees packed the Middle Polk Neighborhood Association meeting last night, where any suggestion to change the dangerous status quo was roundly booed. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Fact-based discussion was in short supply at the Middle Polk Neighborhood Association meeting. Instead, hyperbole and misinformation were the order of the day, spread by “Save Polk Street” flyers erroneously claiming that the SF Municipal Transportation Agency plans to remove all parking along a 20-block stretch of Polk.

While the SFMTA has engaged residents in a community-based planning process for Polk from the outset, project supporters were scarce last night. D3 Supervisor David Chiu, who usually talks a good game on street safety, has not taken a position on the project.

Dan Kowalski, who owns the furniture store Flipp, said it was “natural” for the reaction from merchants to go from “alarm to absolute panic” after seeing the SFMTA’s proposals to add protected bike lanes and more public space while removing, at the most, roughly half of Polk’s on-street parking, which makes up just 7 percent of the parking supply within a one-block range of the corridor.

Kowalski and other speakers dismissed evidence that the same kinds of street improvements proposed for Polk have improved safety and boosted business on other streets, even when parking is removed.

Merchants on Stockton Street in Chinatown have lauded the temporary bans on parking during the Lunar New Year. Parklets, bike lanes, Sunday Streets, and other streetscape upgrades that increase foot traffic are in high demand citywide. The sky hasn’t fallen in New York, either, where recent data shows that after a protected bike lane was installed on Ninth Avenue, local retail sales increased 49 percent, compared to a 3 percent increase throughout Manhattan. At the north end of Union Square, which saw a major expansion of pedestrian space, commercial vacancies have dropped 49 percent, at the same time that they have risen 5 percent borough-wide.

“We’ve looked at the statistics that people have presented to us, and they aren’t real. They’re proposing that our business will actually increase,” said Kowalski, eliciting laughter from the audience. “On paper, it might. But what we’ve seen in the real world, what we’ve seen in other cities, when they’ve tried some similar things, is that they’ve had some very negative reactions.”

To make his case, Kowalski claimed that “some of the same projects” have been tried and removed in Brooklyn and San Diego. A little research, however, shows that those cases had nothing to do with streetscape improvements on a business corridor.

In Brooklyn, the only case of a bike lane being removed was on a residential stretch of Bedford Avenue, where politically-influential leaders from the Hasidic community protested the scanty clothing of female riders. In San Diego, green paint on a suburban road was scrubbed off a bike lane merging zone because it failed to cause speeding drivers to yield to riders.

But Kowalski’s claims went unchallenged, and no one mentioned the evidence that merchants tend to wildly overestimate, like the survey on Columbus Avenue which found that just 14 percent of people arrived by car, and those people tended to spend less than people who arrived by other means.

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Muni to Start Rolling Out 62 New Low-Floor Hybrid Buses This Month

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Image via SF Public Press

By the end of the month, Muni plans to roll out the first of 62 new low-floor hybrid buses, SF Municipal Transportation Agency Director Ed Reiskin said at a board of directors meeting last week.

Muni will receive 13 of the 40-foot-long buses and put one of them into service by April, he said. Then, starting in May, the agency will begin testing and rolling out 5 buses per week over three months.

As we reported in September, the SFMTA purchased 45 of the 2013 New Flyer buses, but Reiskin said the agency was able to add 17 more to the contract in late October [PDF] by getting in on a purchase “consortium” and obtaining more funds from the Federal Transit Administration and local Prop K sales taxes. The total cost of the contract was increased from $36.9 million to $48.7 million.

Reiskin noted that these are Muni’s first new buses since 2007, and that they should reduce the transit system’s notoriously high rate of breakdowns. “As you know, we have one of the oldest bus fleets in the nation,” he said. “This is a long time coming.”

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Bikeway on Mission Street Would Cost More Than One on Market

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Constructing raised, protected bike lanes on downtown Mission Street would cost more than building them on Market, according to SF Municipal Transportation Agency Director Ed Reiskin.

A possible vision for Market Street with a raised, protected bikeway.

The Mission bikeway proposal, which recently surfaced as an option to be studied in the repeatedly-delayed Better Market Street project, would entail abandoning long-sought bike safety improvements on Market, which is where bicycle riders naturally tend to travel. The Department of Public Works and the SFMTA have said the Mission option, which would also re-route Muni’s 14-Mission buses on to Market, would be simpler to engineer, allow the 14 to use Market’s wider bus lanes, and could include a “green wave” for bikes on Mission.

The proposal for protected bike lanes on Mission instead of Market. Images: Better Market Street

But even factoring in the cost of reconstructing Market Street’s granite curbs to build raised bike lanes, the Mission option is projected to be more expensive, Reiskin told the SF County Transportation Authority Board (comprised of the Board of Supervisors) at a hearing yesterday. Though the cost estimates for each option aren’t immediately available, Reiskin said that even if protected bikeways weren’t included at all, construction costs on Market Street would only be cut by an estimated 10 percent. The total cost of the project is estimated to be as high as $450 million, up from the $250 million figure provided last year.

Supervisor Scott Wiener, who, along with Supervisor John Avalos, called for hearings to scrutinize the Mission bikeway proposal and project delays, noted that “ten percent is not a dramatic increase,” and that debates about whether or not to build a protected bikeway on Market should focus on policy outcomes, not cost.

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